For a long time middlemen and shortage of agricultural extension officers have been a major setback for many farmers in Nakuru County, a trend that has impacted negatively on food security.
For Francis Kanga, a farmer, the biggest challenge was how to outwit these brokers living off his sweat, and break even with the proceeds from his 5 acre farm at Kandutura, Rongai Sub-County.
He can now breathe a sigh of relief following the innovation of a mobile based app code-named UjuziKilimo which has been rolled out in the county.
The 48-year-old farmer who grows potatoes, kales, spinach, capsicums, corianders and tomatoes is now directly linked to buyers. Through the platform, Kanga can also access information on good and modern agricultural practices.
The app is godsend for Mr. Kanga and over 200 other farmers in the Sub-County who had previously been under the mercies of brokers who would buy their harvest at throw away prices, because they knew that the farmers had few options of getting to the market themselves.
This would be especially felt whenever the farmers had bumper harvests of the easily perishable farm products.
“The brokers are now out of the way. I have been able to bypass them through this system,” says Mr. Kanga in an interview with Kenya News Agency, adding that he now directly sells his produce to buyers.
The platform is a product of UjuziKilimo Technologies (K) Ltd, a Kenyan agricultural Technology startup founded by 29 year old Brian Bosire whose target was to reach out to 100,000 small scale farmers by providing digital agronomical information.
Mr. Kanga revealed that he had improved access to the markets, personalized weather updates, crop management and market information through an interactive short message service available on the platform.
The farmer further noted that the App had enabled him to get up-to-date information on profitable crops, how they can be planted and the best agricultural practices.
“The platform can effectively manage planting, tendering and harvesting for farmers to gain maximum yield,” Kanga added.
A retired clinical officer Johanna Nge’tich who grows potatoes on his 6 acre farm at Visoi village within the Sub-County points out that Ujuzi kit, a sensor-based soil testing system which is one of the technologies provided by UjuziKilimo, is helping farmers who have subscribed to the SMS service improve yields by at least 40 per cent.
“Precision farming reduces the risk of using the wrong quantities and high cost on fertilizers, enhances soil conservation and increases productivity. With information on seeds, fertilizers, weather and crop management, farmers can increase their harvests, reduce costs and have quality produce for the markets.
The biggest worry of small holder farmers is the erratic weather that we have been experiencing, coupled with soil degradation. However, with this service, farmers are able to better understand these unique challenges and make better decisions throughout the growing season,” observed Nge’tich.
He added that the platform advises farmers on the best time for harvesting and how to do it properly in order to gain maximum yield. The lessons are offered through video tutorials or quick notes.
The App also provides a forum to post questions related to their farming practices and provide a communication channel for farmers through formation of farmers groups.
According to Mr. Bosire, UjuziKilimo gathers market information from different partners and institutions. All this market data is broken down to regions and farmers are able to get up to date personalized SMS with the market trends. This, he explains, ensures that farmers are well informed in order to get the best prices for their produce.
The SMS service sets off a continuous relationship with the farmer, where we deliver actionable recommendation and advice based on soil and farm conditions. When you look at agriculture, there is still room for a lot of innovations along the production chain,” Mr. Bosire added.
By using their GPS and internet-enabled device mounted sensors, UjuziKilimo is able to monitor levels of soil macro nutrients, weather, pH and moisture content and provides tailored recommendations on planting, crop breeds, pest control, the current market value of crops, tools required and where to find them via text message to farmers.
UjuziKilimo also offers predictive farming depending on agro ecology to farmers, by providing accurate weather and climate analytics as well as customized information on crops depending on the farm locations.
County Chief Officer for Agriculture Mr. Kibet Maina noted that the digitalization of the agricultural value chain in Kenya is assisting farmers in accessing markets, accurate weather information and purchasing quality seeds.
He observed that Kenya had embarked on transforming its agriculture as a paradigm shift aimed at replacing conventional farming systems with the modern, since they are fast becoming obsolete.
“As a County, we are investing in knowledge and information for overall agricultural and rural development with the maximum use of Information Communication Technology.
Kibet further said that the ushering in of new technology is expected to make a positive contribution towards smart agriculture and motivate farmers to increase their production. Mobile phone technology is already helping bridge the gap between research and practice,” stated the Chief Officer.
He affirmed that food security can only be attained if farmers are equipped with the necessary knowledge.
Various reports have identified increased population, low farm productivity, erratic weather patterns and rural urban migration as some of the major challenges affecting food production in Africa.
By Jane Ngugi